Category Archives: ICT

TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING-BIT OF A CURATES EGG SO FAR-BUT NESTA IS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE

Curates egg, maybe, so far-but Nesta sees huge potential

Nesta believes that, through its past work, it has come ‘to recognise an innovation deficit at the intersection of technology and education; students today inhabit a rich digital environment, but it is insufficiently utilised to support learning’.

The education sector has invested heavily in digital technology, ‘but this investment has not yet resulted in the radical improvements to learning experiences and educational attainment’. Something of understatement here- part of the problem is that ICT has  , rather too often. been oversold, or miss sold, to schools by suppliers whose motivation is their profit margin rather than the needs of pupils. They have also exploited the lack of technical knowledge and procurement naivety in some schools. Too many schools have invested in technology and software that they don’t need that ties them into a long term financial commitment  and which has little  demonstrable effect  on outcomes. The BSF programme must carry some blame for this too.  When the BSF programme was operating schools  complained that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and were  forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers.  Armando Di-Finizio, the head of Brunel Academy,at the cutting edge of ICT schools use,  said that millions of pounds were being wasted on “white elephant” technology in schools. He said that his school — the first to be rebuilt under BSF — had on-going technical difficulties. “ We suffered with the ICT that’s the one area of the school that… it’s been very, very difficult and you do need your back-up plans. The school was designed to be completely wireless, it went for all the gimmicks and gismos and it was going to be fantastic. I have yet to see a school that works really effectively wirelessly.” (the wireless network had, indeed, fallen over under the strain of hundreds of students trying to use it at once). He suggested a fixation with constantly updating classrooms with the latest gadgets. To be fair, doubtless leant on by the department, he sought to qualify his remarks later and stressed some of the positives but he was not the only Head to have worries and concerns. There are, of course, positives but we must remember that policy and practice should be evidence based, and led. This has not always informed the approach to ICT in learning and schools.

This is what Joe Nutt said, in the CFBT Education Trust report ‘Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools – Perspective report’:

‘Claims for how technology can improve educational performance in schools are widespread and  influential yet the research evidence is extremely weak and the discourse is often clouded and  confused by the motives and interests of some key individuals and organisations. Nonetheless, huge investments have been made and continue to be made across the developed and the developing world.’

An Ofsted report on ICT in schools found ‘ only a few had evaluated the effectiveness of previous investment  (in ICT)or developed costed plans for rolling future investment’

This Nesta report confirms that ‘adopting new technologies can be expensive, especially when considering the total costs of ownership that include installation, training, upkeep, and (ultimately) replacement.’  In 2011, the Review of Education Capital found that maintained schools spent £487 million on ICT equipment and services in 2009-2010. Since then, the education system has entered a state of flux with changes to the curriculum, shifts in funding, and increasing school autonomy. Nesta, though, is pretty optimistic about what the future holds for ICT in schools.

‘This report sets out where proof, promise and potential lie for technology in education.  It then identifies the contextual factors and actions needed to ensure current and future opportunities for school children take full advantage of technology for learning.’

Crucially, it observes that ‘over recent decades, many efforts to realise the potential of digital technology in education have made two key errors. Collectively, they have put the technology above teaching and excitement above evidence. This means they have spent more time, effort and money looking to find the digital silver bullet that will transform learning than they have into evolving teaching practice to make the most of technology. If we are to make progress we need to clarify the nature of the goal we want to satisfy through future innovation. Much existing teaching practice may well not benefit greatly from new technologies. As we continue to develop our understanding of technology’s proof, potential and promise, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve learning experiences in the classroom and beyond’

Note  Nesta is the UK’s innovation foundation.: ‘We help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills.’

Decoding Learning:  The Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education-Rosemary Luckin, , Brett Bligh, Andrew Manches,  Sharon Ainsworth,  Charles Crook, Richard Noss  November 2012

http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/DecodingLearningReport_v12.pdf

A cautionary note. This is what a World Bank report said in 2005:

‘The impact of ICT use on learning outcomes is unclear, and open to much debate. Widely accepted, standard methodologies and indicators to assess impact of ICTs in education do not exist… Despite a decade of large investment in ICTs to benefit education in OECD countries, and increasing use of ICTs in education in developing countries, important gaps remain in the current knowledge base. In addition, there appears to be a dearth of useful resources attempting to translate what is known to work – and not work.’

Truncano, M. (2005) Knowledge Maps: ICT in Education ,Washington, DC: infoDev/World Bank,

NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN THE CLASSROOM

NEW  TECHNOLOGIES IN  THE CLASSROOM

Do they   work?  Or is empirical evidence in short supply?

Comment

It is often assumed that new technologies will massively improve what happens in the classroom, and  the learning environment and experience of pupils . Give pupils a lap top or ipad and their learning experience will be much better for it. But what exactly ,asks Larry Cuban of Stanford University,  is the pressing or important problem to which an iPad is the solution? Asking that  pretty basic question first uncovers, he says, the confused set of purposes that surround buying and using high-tech devices in classrooms. Here are some reasons given by educators  to Cuban about how technology improves learning   :

*These devices will motivate students to work harder, gain more knowledge and skills, and be engaged in schooling. Engaged students will achieve higher grades. When the  Auburn (ME)  school board authorized the purchase of  iPads for kindergartners, their leaders assured them that reading scores would rise.

*Students will be prepared for an information-driven labour market. Or as one superintendent put it: “Students have to have digital competence, and to be competent, you have to have access. Using current-day technology should be a normal part of what we do. We need to close the gap between schools, education and the real world.”

*High-tech devices will erase the gap in access to knowledge that exists between poor and wealthy. The superintendent who bought 6,000 iPads said:  “It’s an equalizer. There’s no difference in learning advantage from the poorest to the most affluent.”

*Using laptops and tablets will transform traditional teaching. Etc..

The use of technology, apparently, is the answer then to all sorts of education challenges. Or is it? Where exactly is the evidence in support of this proposition and the various associated claims? Cuban reminds us, for example, that research clearly shows that certain practices do, indeed, “work.” Take pre-school education. Study after study done on three and four year-olds who were in preschool programmes and their progress through schools and into adulthood show short- and long-term gains in academic achievement, earnings, and other behaviours . But ,when  it comes to research supporting major purchases of laptops, tablets, and similar devices, such a cumulative body of evidence is ‘missing-in-action’, claims  Cuban.

Occasional studies that do show promising results for new technologies are, according to Cuban, dragged in to cover the near nakedness of research, much like a fig leaf, to justify the high costs of these new devices in the face of little evidence. The fact remains that no one knows for sure whether the new hardware and software appearing in schools works.

So, if this is the case-why such an investment in new technology? Cubans explanation is   to do  pretty much with politics.  He says ‘school boards and superintendents also buy high-tech devices because they want to be seen as technologically innovative and ahead of other districts. In this culture, the value of technology is equal to social and economic progress. Because school boards are completely dependent upon the political support of their parents, taxpayers, and voters to fund annual budgets, being seen as ahead of the game in technology garners public support. Not to adopt new technologies, even when funds are short, means that district leaders are failing their students and against progress.’

I must admit to being baffled about the ipad fad-given that it is difficult to work on and far inferior in performance to mini-laptops if you want internet access and speed. A triumph of design and marketing  over substance.

It does seem that Cuban makes a compelling case-policy and practice should be informed by robust up to date evidence.  But it is also true that our youth are highly proficient in the use of new technologies, and, crucially, enjoy working with them and they allow  for , self-evidently, greater  personalisation of learning and for learners to take more ownership of their learning and to work with greater independence but also to work within networked teams with a global outlook,  all of which must be positive. So why is evidence in support of such  new technologies in the classroom  so  very hard to come by?

ICT POLICY AND SCHOOLS

ICT POLICY AND SCHOOLS

ICT has big potential but   can be undermined by poor choices

Comment

The demise of BECTA left many involved with ICT in education seriously concerned about the future, and particularly the broadband service to schools. BECTA is gone because it was seen by Ministers as having been slow to move in a number of areas and wasteful. There was also some resentment among stakeholders about the way it handled contracting issues and others remarked on its inexplicable slowness in harnessing and exploiting  open access  software.

Schools have complained in the past of being sold expensive  ICT equipment   that’s not fit for purpose and there have been concerns over the quality of software that has no discernible impact on learning. Salesman have too often  oversold and overstated the benefits of ICT in the classroom, against the backdrop of mixed international evidence as to the impact of ICT on learning.

The consensus is that ICT can be a useful support tool to assist learning (and has significant potential too  for much wider use) but it has to be well-managed and thought through, and too often it isn’t and it  is certainly not an end in itself.

Schools  can be left with a significant longer term  commitment in terms of up-grading both hardware and software when their budgets are under significant pressure.  And those most vociferously in support of ICT in schools, rather too often, have tended to have  a commercial stake in  its success. Finding a genuinely independent ICT adviser is as difficult as finding a genuinely independent financial adviser.

Critics are also conscious of the fact that in the wider world    many big, large scale  ICT contracts don’t deliver on their promise, are over budget and are often late in delivery, with taxpayers often  having to take the consequences.

A 2010 CFBT Education Trust report by Joe Nutt ‘Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools’ found that claims for how technology can improve educational performance in schools are widespread and  influential yet the research evidence is extremely weak and the discourse is often clouded and  confused by the motives and interests of some key individuals and organisations. Nonetheless, huge investments have been made and continue to be made across the developed and the  developing world.  One of the major reasons this has happened is because of an alliance between influential individuals, technology companies and government agencies. A small group of enthusiastic writers and  researchers – ‘ICT Gurus’ termed in this paper ‘techno-zealots’ – have allied themselves with the  suppliers of ICT equipment and convinced many policy-makers of the remarkable, transforming   power of technology. The reports and publications produced by the techno-zealots and their allies  often fail to meet high standards of scholarship and evidence. Typically the likelihood of impact and  better educational outcomes through technology is simply asserted without a remotely compelling  evidence base. There are dissenting voices. There is an increasing body of evidence and research by reputable organisations and educational bodies, which raises serious questions about how ICT  in schools is designed, procured and implemented,’ concluded Nutt

Asked recently by Lord Willis, in the Lords, about the impact of e-learning resources on children’s learning, Lord Hill, the education Minister,  replied: “The DfE reviews existing educational research and commissions its own studies. Overall there is a strong body of evidence linking the effective use of technology to improvements in education. Schools that take a systematic and planned approach to using technology to support education achieve better outcomes with technology than other schools. Strong patterns of impact are also found from pupils’ use of technology to support study at home.” This is certainly an endorsement of ICT in the classroom. But note the Ministers important qualification- ‘effective ; and systematic and planned’. Too often in schools the use of technology has had  none of these characteristics .Given the waste involved in so many large ICT contracts,  pressure on budgets and  the mixed evidence on its impact on learning it is right to be  cautious and circumspect when developing schools ICT policy.

A recent PfS briefing for school suppliers revealed that the capital spend per Academy pupil for ICT had been cut from £1,450 to £800 and the state of the market is perhaps reflected in the fact that RM, a major supplier, has issued a profits warning  fuelling concerns that investment will be placed on the backburner, although investment in broadband technology seems to be safe, for the time being.

The Secretary of State,  Michael Gove, is shortly to make an announcement on ICT policy. In his recent Royal Society speech  he said  “So as well as reviewing our curriculum and strengthening our workforce, we need to look at the way the very technological innovations we are racing to keep up with can help us along the way. We need to change curricula, tests and teaching to keep up with technology, and technology itself is changing curricula, tests, and teaching.” The Government is now aware too  of the progress the exam boards are making in using new technology in tests and examinations.

Lord Hill, in the Lords when discussing the Education bill (still in the Lords), pointed to the fact that “  we have an extraordinarily successful market in educational technology in the UK. We are a leader, so there are strong commercial reasons why we should support it. We want to encourage sharing of evidence of effective practice in the use of technology and improved teacher skills in using it.” He elaborated “We are talking to a number of interested parties-school leaders, professional bodies, educational charities, industry, academics and other experts-about how the department should take forward its thinking about technology. Given the pace of change, we think it important to allow schools and teachers themselves, working with industry, to respond to the changes. We want to give teachers the freedom to choose how to use it to create lessons that engage their pupils and enable them to achieve their full potential.”

That’s fine up to a point but teachers are not always best placed to make informed decisions on what they need and the wrong decision can affect the school for years to come , while ,as we have seen , accessing  sound, genuinely  independent  ICT advice is not that easy. Far too many schools have made decisions  that they have regretted when it  comes to both  hardware and software.

There seems little doubt though that technology will play a greater influence in  learning ,  both in and  outside the classroom,  and in testing.  Virtual education will accelerate learning through interactive multimedia resources, networking via the Internet, interactive television, mobiles, satellites, and other technologies. As Professor Ken Robinson has pointed out, some of the best learning is a product of collaboration and technology can broaden the scope for collaboration, within schools, between schools and indeed across the world. These mediums will probably dominate the preferences of the masses and schools are lagging behind in exploiting new technologies particularly when you look at how young people use these technologies in their social lives. The Internet will also enable  students to take a greater interest in developing the way they learn best. Students will become directors and producers, shaping their lessons to accommodate their learning style and needs.

There is clearly huge potential  for ICT in learning , but also huge  pitfalls if you get it wrong. Caveat Emptor.

ICT AND SCHOOLS- IS DIGITAL LITERACY REALLY A NEW SKILL?

ICT AND SCHOOLS

New report claims that  evidence in short supply  on ICTs influence on  educational outcomes

And  questions whether Digital literacy is  really a new skill

Comment

A new report  by Joe Nutt, a senior consultant  at CfBT Education Trust,  says that while  claims for how technology can improve educational performance in schools are widespread and huge investments have been made  worldwide in ICT in schools  the reality is that influential research evidence to back these claims  is extremely weak and   ‘the discourse is often clouded and  confused by the motives and interests of some key individuals and organisations.’ Nutt  explains that one of the major reasons why  this has happened is because of an alliance between influential individuals, technology companies and government agencies. A small group of enthusiastic writers and  researchers – ‘ICT Gurus’ termed in his  paper ‘techno-zealots’ – have allied themselves with the  suppliers of ICT equipment and convinced many policy-makers of the remarkable, transforming  power of technology. However, and here is the  nub ,the reports and publications produced by these techno-zealots and their allies  often fail to meet high standards of scholarship and evidence.  Nutt  claims ‘Typically the likelihood of impact and  better educational outcomes through technology is simply asserted without a remotely compelling  evidence base.’  There  is also  a new drive for pupils to acquire a new skill ‘digital literacy’. But Nutt issues a warning on this.  He writes ‘One of the myths propagated by enthusiasts for technology is that the nature of learning has  fundamentally changed as a result of wider technological change. They call for a new range of  skills, sometimes referred to as ‘digital literacy’. The rise of ‘digital literacy’ as a concept, loose  as it is, has also exerted considerable pressure on schools and teachers to change fundamental  aspects of their practice and schooling. On closer examination though  ‘digital literacy skills’ appear to be ‘  no more than the higher order enquiry and synthesis skills that teachers of traditional subjects  have long taught.’

This report really amounts to a health warning for schools to think carefully about what they buy, how they utilise it and  how they  evaluate its use in the classroom and  the effects on outcomes . Nutt is a technology expert and values the contribution that ICT can make to education and learning. But he   urges schools and teachers  to put themselves in a position to defend themselves against these  complex and powerful pressures, if they are to ensure that the technology they do invest in and  deploy brings meaningful educational benefits and improvements.  Nutt concludes ‘The argument is not that  technology is of little value to schools. Grandiose claims obscure the real benefits – at school and  classroom level – that arise when technology is used properly and seen as one of several useful  tools that can assist the work of teachers.’

Professional educators and the evolving  role of ICT in schools ; Perspective report; Joe Nutt 2010; published by  CfBT Education Trust

http://www.cfbt.com/evidenceforeducation/pdf/ICTinSchools-web.pdf

 

POOR USE OF COMPUTERS IN SCHOOLS?

POOR USE OF COMPUTERS IN SCHOOLS?

Bectas demise may not have much of an impact

Comment

On 24 May 2010 the Government announced a package of measures to reduce expenditure in the public sector. This included the planned closure of Becta.  So Becta is on its way out  with its web site closing at the end of  this month  and the quango gone by April 2011 . Becta provides  universal support for ICT in schools. Its demise though  will not generally be much  lamented. Becta did  a service  though by pointing out that just one in five schools use computers effectively and far too many seem to think that computers can only be used to assist with exams and tests  rather than  more creatively. Schools spend £1.65 billion a year on information technology, with one computer to every three pupils in secondary schools, and one to six in primary schools. Yet as the Times pointed out  not long ago some heads, particularly those who were  involved with the BSF programme, complain that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and are forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers.   An Ofsted report in 2009 found that  only around half of the schools visited showed that they were systematically evaluating the impact of ICT resources on improving learning.

The  mastering of   Microsoft Word programmes , spreadsheets  and data input  seems to be the main priority in too many cases. Why Microsoft was allowed to gain  such a virtual stranglehold in our schools is largely down to Bectas  initial relative inaction . Becta started off very close to Microsoft  and became slowly estranged .It  only acted with robustness very late in the day. It did ultimately  refer Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) alleging that the software giant was benefiting from abusing its dominant position in the market but Becta  had looked slow on its feet with the  drawn out negotiations suiting Microsoft. Becta  focused on getting deals on expensive hardware and software  paying little attention to other  cheaper or free options. It then began to understand the benefits of open source  access but was then heavily criticised   by the  open source community following its  decision in 2008  to award its open source schools project to a little-known assessment  firm AlphaPlus Consultancy tasked with  setting  up and running   the open source project  . The aim was  to support ‘ schools with awareness, adoption, deployment, use and ongoing development of their use of Open Source Software…. And to complement existing OSS community initiatives within schools and elsewhere. ‘…

Open source software is developed using an open and collaborative approach where the outcomes of this joint effort are made available to users without charge. The program code is not kept closed, but is published for others to study and improve as part of this spirit of openness and collaboration.

High quality Freeware and open source have been available for ages . It  means the system and the programs do not require proprietary licenses. For example OpenOffice.org is a free suite of Office tools. It has the same core components as proprietary options, such as a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation builder. Indeed, there is an open source alternative to most of the major applications.

This means that there is not only a lower cost overall, but also students can use the same programs on home computers. There is less threat  too  from viruses,  and if used efficiently  less memory is needed . The widely used Linux system claims to be   as flexible as Microsoft  and  in some  respects easier to  use.

John Spencer, former teacher, turned blogger, thinks things are going to change fairly quickly on the ICT front  as more schools become academies. “Say goodbye to: outsourced services; any unsexy software (such as Microsoft Office that they could get just as good for free); interactive whiteboards; GCSE and A2 ICT examinations (it’s about £100 per pupil per exam),” he writes on the IT website Computerworld. And what is going to take their place? “Fast broadband; anything Apple (special educational deals on iPads); lots of videoconferencing kit; vocational ICT qualifications (from Cisco, RedHat, Microsoft).”

Spencer believes it  may be that the frustrated school governor is going to see life become easier — at least in procuring IT equipment and software. And it may turn out that removing Becta  a body that was meant to make it cheaper for schools to get computers,  actually allows them now  to get a wider variety. And for children preparing for a computer-driven world, it might well  be a boon if it can bring a more creative approach to how they use the machines in schools.

Meanwhile the challenge remains  to harness the enthusiasm and expertise of young people in gaming , surfing the internet and social networking   so that this  brings greater  benefits  to their personal  learning and education.

Joe Nutt, a senior consultant with CFBT Education Trust, will be releasing a report  this month  which looks at ICTs use in schools ‘ Professional educators and the evolving role of ICT in schools.’

Note  also that the BETT Show is 12-14 January 2011

ICT AND ASSESSMENT

ICT, EXAMS AND ASSESSMENT

Both learning and assessment making greater use of ICT

Comment

In ICT led innovation new styles of learning have an exciting image but assessment usually fails to excite as  much enthusiasm. But many in education  believe  assessment must  radically change if ICT is to be used to its full potential. In a paper given at a special QCA conference  as far back as  2001 [, Craven and Harding 2001], the interaction between assessment and learning was likened to a three-legged race, in which neither partner can make much progress without the other’s contribution.  Examining boards have been  seriously developing the use of ICT in assessment for  well over a decade. UCLES’ first major test of on screen marking of scanned paper scripts was conducted back in the  winter of  2000 and was rated a success. The results indicated that with suitable modifications to the software used by examiners, screen based marking of whole scanned paper scripts would be likely to be as reliable as conventional marking. The  application of technology to the exam marking and processing systems is becoming more and more widespread and helping it is claimed  to ensure not only the smooth and speedy delivery of results but also the provision of valuable performance data. It is true that the major exam boards now routinely use technology in their exam processes, at least in  some way. For example  over half of Edexcel’s General Qualification exam papers,, were marked online this year. But are we reaching the point when exams will not just be marked online but taken online as well?  Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment,  believes that traditional examinations are likely to disappear within 10 to 15 years, to be replaced by computerised testing. Instead of three-hour written exams, there will be continual e-assessment throughout pupils’ courses. Exam boards are investing millions of pounds in developing the necessary technology – and, Lebus  says that this  is  not “science fiction”. OCR has piloted a fully e-assessed GCSE in environmental and land-based science since 2007. This summer 1,800 candidates at 80 schools and colleges took it.

Views on this tend to be strong and mixed. As Steve Besley of Edexcel has said ‘ At stake are two difficult circles that need squaring; on the one hand the increasing use by young people of computers rather than pen and paper to communicate information and on the other, the need to ensure that the validity of assessment decisions is maintained.’  In her Chief Regulator’s Report last December, the then chair of Ofqual noted that “technology is second nature to today’s learners” and “the assessment system we are devising now must be able to provide a firm basis for the changes that are bound to take place over that time.” At present as this summer saw, computer based testing remains the preserve of shorter, competence based tests and any shift towards mainstream exams remains some way off and  is controversial. But it  does seem just a matter of time given the advances in software ( look at what software is available to spot plagiarism-  which being used much more frequently in Higher Education) for ICT to be fully integrated in assessment. In an article in the Guardian on results day, Professor Dylan Wiliam suggested it would be “20 years before all GCSEs and A levels were taken at computers” Many would agree but technology may start to break down other traditions such as the need for fixed days for examining and reporting which might in a few years time  look almost Dickensian.  But one thing we do know is that claims of what computers can do efficiently  and effectively are too often oversold, by consultants and those who have a vested interest in selling hardware and software. Indeed there is some  anecdotal evidence of a backlash against ICT in education as some Heads and governors  rebel against the costs of constant  hardware and software up-grades,  on-going technical problems  and  worries  about the  mixed evidence over the educational value of ICT and educational software and its claimed impact on outputs .ICT too often  seems to have become an end rather than a means.  Politicians too are cautious about ICT  given that there have been far too many cost overruns and failed ICT projects in the public sector   in which promised outputs either fail to materialise or  are delivered late and over budget. In these austere times this is a significant factor.

However, even so, it is fairly safe to conclude that greater use of ICT will affect every one,  both in learning and assessment .There has been a global shift towards computerised assessments. Singapore is seen as a something of a pioneer in this area.  The US already   has  some multiple choice and computer marking, while South Korea is rapidly developing new e-assessment models. Denmark is piloting the use of the internet during some essay-based exams, seen as the equivalent of the move to allow calculators in maths exams. In this changing environment formative and summative assessment  will not remain so distinct, and it is now possible for an awarding authority to gather data to be taken into account when at the end of a course a certificate of achievement is issued. So expect quite a few changes over the next ten years.

IMPACT OF ICT IN SCHOOLS

ICT IN SCHOOLS AND ITS IMPACT

Evidence of cause and effect?  Becta now under fire

Comment

In 1997 Tony Blair pledged “By 2002 every one of the 32,000 schools in Britain will have modern computers, the educational programmes to go on them, the teachers skilled to teach on them, the pupils skilled to use them, connected to the superhighway.” In 2000  his pre-election education pledges include £710 million for new technology in schools, five pupils per computer in secondary and eight pupils per computer in primary schools within four years. From 2009 all primary schools in the UK were compelled to provide learning opportunities through the effective use of technology. The recent Rose Review of the primary school curriculum committed primary schools to “strengthening the teaching and learning of ICT to enable [pupils] to be independent and confident users of technology by the end of primary education”. The DCSF spends £1.65 billion annually on IT for classrooms, which accounts for a significant share of the £55 billion BSF programme.

A just completed, year long study, by the Institute of Education, of over 600 pupils in primary schools across England asked children how they would prefer technology to be used in their learning. It reveals pupils’ concerns over ‘low-tech’ primary schools, but suggests that only minor improvements are needed .Despite demands from many industry professionals to rebuild and restructure schools to suit upcoming cohorts of “digital natives” the vast majority of children reckon that only minor changes would be required to make their schools’ use of technology more engaging and exciting. “While we expected children to be making radical demands for virtual classes or robot teachers, the majority simply wanted the occasional chance to bring their own devices into school”, said  Dr Neil Selwyn from the University of London’s Institute of Education.   More than half of the 7-11 year olds in the study had their own mobile phone, and nearly 90 percent had their own games console at home. The study found that more than 80 percent of children regularly play computer games, and more than one-in-five make regular use of social networking sites such as Bebo, Habbo or MySpace in their spare time. In contrast, the most frequent school ICT uses were word processing and internet searching. The study also found a continued need for schools to work with children on issues of internet safety. Only one third of the pupils surveyed were knowledgeable about staying safe when using the internet. Similarly, more than 60 percent wanted more help from their teachers in terms of learning about ‘e-safety’.

This is against the backdrop  of a widespread belief that ICT can empower teachers and learners, transforming teaching and learning processes from being highly teacher-dominated to student-centered, and that this transformation will result in increased learning gains for  pupils  creating and allowing  more opportunities for learners to develop their creativity, problem-solving abilities, informational reasoning skills, communication skills, and other higher-order thinking skills and help develop too  learner  autonomy. Many teachers also think that using ICT in class offers capacity to change the very nature of pupil learning.  Key to the Governments support and investment in schools ICT is the assumption that it helps raise standards though causal links remain difficult to prove.  This, of course, is not just about asking ‘Does ICT have an impact on educational outcomes?’, it is also about understanding the nature of any impacts, the factors associated with them and the conditions which enable positive change.  Surprisingly, given the scale of investment there are currently very limited, unequivocally compelling data to support this belief.

However, one survey -The big picture: The Impact of ICT on Attainment, Motivation and Learning (2003) helpfully summarized and discussed  some large-scale studies on  the impact of ICT. The key findings from this review appear to be that:

• Generally something positive happens to the attainment of pupils who make (relatively) high use of ICT in their subject learning

• School standards are positively associated with the quality of school ICT resources and quality of their use in teaching and learning, regardless of socio-economic characteristics

• Use of ICT in class generally motivates pupils to learn

• Achieving positive impact of ICT on attainment, motivation and learning depends critically on the decisions of schools, teachers and pupils on how it is deployed and used

The  study suggests that ‘ Overall, the weight of evidence presented here suggests clearly that ICT provision and pupil ICT use do in fact impact positively on pupil attainment and on school standards – though there is no definitive study demonstrating causality’,

It also found that the effective use and impact of ICT varies, considerably, between subjects.

But it’s an expensive business and once you invest in ICT you have to constantly maintain the ICT infrastructure, regularly updating both hardware and software to keep pace. And there is a strong suspicion that that there is huge wastage and unscrupulous over selling by at least some providers.  Some schools are over a barrel, wishing to be seen as progressive with state of the art ICT   but ending up purchasing equipment and indeed software that has little demonstrable educational value.

Schools spend £1.65 billion a year on information technology, with one computer to every three pupils in secondary schools, and one to six in primary schools. Yet as the Times pointed out this week some heads, particularly those involved with the BSF programme, complain that they have lost freedom over their IT budgets, and are forced to buy expensive equipment through designated suppliers.  Armando Di-Finizio, the head of Brunel Academy,at the cutting edge of ICT schools use,  said that millions of pounds were being wasted on “white elephant” technology in schools. He said that his school — the first to be rebuilt under BSF — had continuing technical difficulties. “The school was designed to be completely wireless but I have yet to see a school where wireless works well. He criticized the millions of pounds being spent on technology in schools, and suggested that there was a fixation with constantly updating classrooms with the latest gadgets.

Until very recently Microsoft had a virtual stranglehold on the UK education market. Becta, the government ICT education procurement quango has recently reformed its procurement regime to break the software giant’s hold on schools, and launched a programme to get schools to adopt open source software. However, its decisions and preferred suppliers have prompted a heated debate in the blogsphere about the quality of its decisiomaking. And, more generally, Becta and its boss Stephen Crowne, formerly a senior civil servant in the Education Department, have been under fire, as a popular target in the press’ pre-election ‘quango shooting gallery’. Crowne for his part is one of those quango chiefs who is paid more than the Prime Minister, on £220,000 a year. He also made £30,000 of expense claims last year too, including £388 for a TomTom Sat nav for his car-not the best of timing.  Becta has been named in yet another report – this time a government-sponsored one – as an education and training agency that should be merged or abolished to rationalise services and save millions of pounds in public spending .The report Towards Ambition 2020: skills, jobs, growth” by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) pulls no punches.

Its authors believe there are at least 30 too many Government-funded bodies. And with each having its own different rules and requirements, they have made the UK training system too complex and cluttered. The solution put forward includes the merger into one body of all quality improvement agencies that have overlapping responsibilities “including Becta, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, Standards Verification UK and the non-SSC elements of Lifelong Learning UK”. The report says this should be followed immediately by a 50 per cent cut in their collective budgets and a progressive transfer of “the remaining quality improvement and workforce development funding to providers within three years to create sector accountability and better value for money”.

With a couple of think tanks also identifying Becta as prime target for culling, its future  looks anything but assured.  In the meantime, as funding cuts loom on the horizon there will be much talk of where cuts  to ICT programmes will fall , and rationalizations occur. Schools should use this opportunity to have a long hard look at whether they can afford the burgeoning costs of keeping their systems up to date. Some will have moratoriums on new purchases. But a pause might be beneficial. Too many have come to view ICT as an end in itself rather than as  a useful tool to supplement and complement good classroom teaching and in some  cases costs are out of control . A time for reflection and some cost benefit analysis is surely called for.